Francisca Acuna of Austin, Texas, was succinct in another meeting: “Don’t build where there is flooding. Stop recycling flooded properties. Disclose flood risks. Protect or restore ecologies that reduce flooding. She added, “Make flood insurance fair,” noting that her annual premium had risen from $450 to $1,893.
The climate and the world are changing. What challenges will the future bring and how should we respond to them?
All three women are members of the Anthropocene Alliance, a national collective of communities affected by climate change, most of which are home to many low-income people and people of color.
And it’s not just those who live in floodplains who have weighed in. Public policy experts, design firms, former FEMA executives and even Fannie Mae, the government-sponsored mortgage company, have urged the agency to change the minimum requirements communities must meet to be eligible to participate in the federal flood insurance program.
FEMA standards determine the most basic aspects of lowland use. Under its antiquated regulations, development of flood-prone plots is allowed with special permits, and when a storm hits and causes significant damage, flooded homes can be rebuilt in the same location, as long as they are elevated or otherwise protected. against further flooding. . This might have made sense 50 years ago, before the floods were exacerbated by climate change, but that is no longer the case today.
Worse, many local governments across the country aren’t even enforcing the rule, which prohibits federally subsidized flood insurance for newly built properties in areas prone to flooding. Local governments are supposed to enforce the rule, but as The Times reported in 2020, up to a quarter of a million insurance policies were in breach; properties have accounted for more than $1 billion in flood-related claims over the past decade.
But perhaps the most damaging of the outdated regulations is one that requires new structures in flood-prone areas to be built just above the predicted waterline of what was once known as a 100-year flood. FEMA plots these water lines on its flood maps, but many of them have been out of date for years or decades and do not reflect future sea or flood levels. A home built in a floodplain today has at least a one in four chance of being flooded by a 100-year flood on a 30-year mortgage. According to a recent study in the journal Nature, what was once considered a 100-year flood is likely, in New England, for example, to occur as often as every year by the end of the century.
“Rebuilding communities devastated by disaster ultimately costs far more than implementing stronger codes and mitigation programs over time,” explained Brock Long, a FEMA chief under President Donald Trump. when I asked why he supported changing the criteria.